Ever since 9/11, we in the West have lived in a climate of anxiety. I am one who sees much of the anxiety as confected. Leaders have responded to serious events with alarming rhetoric. Our media have obliged with headlines that enhance the ambient anxiety. And unofficial media respond with ungoverned hype. And so we tremble.

The news of the climate ought to alarm our governments more than it does. I think our kids get this right.

The economy has gone to the bathroom and hasn’t returned.

And now this. By this I mean THIS. I mean the Coronavirus outbreak.

No-one but a fool would say there’s no cause for concern. We know that; we’ve heard that from the fool in the White House.

In Anatomy, the corona is the rim around the glans penis (aka the nob). We know who the nob is.

Is there reason to panic? Many have decided they should panic. Supermarkets are crowded, while the shoppers in Collins Street have thinned.

No-one knows how serious the coronavirus epidemic will become. This blog will report on what it sees. In my clinic some patients are seeking advance prescriptions in case medications become unavailable. If/when this becomes common, medications will certainly become scarce

I close with two modest predictions: firstly that panic will feed on panic; secondly, that this blog will pop up on your screens more frequently.

I No Longer Know my Country

I Left Home a Few Days ago and When I Returned it wasn’t there

Australia is my home; it has been since adventurous forebears from England and France arrived in the 1840’s and 1850’s, and desperate forebears came in the 1890’s. Nowadays we might call these people economic migrants and queue jumpers.
I flew from my home country last Thursday and returned yesterday morning. I read the paper and I knew I was no longer at home. My home had gone. I might never get it back. What had changed?

Border Force to have up to 6000 armed officers

Border Force in Australia

Border Force in Australia

I read the headline. I didn’t understand it. This Border Force would be deployed not on the border but inside my home. Most of its officers would be armed, many already are ‘trained for use-of-force operations.’ I sat and I wondered: what ‘operations’ inside our borders do they contemplate? Against whom are they armed? Who is the enemy within?

In the home where I used to live people trusted each other. We were different and we were OK. Some of us were very different indeed: in the small country town of my boyhood a sole Jewish family lived, trusted and trusting. That family was my own. Trust was rewarded, we were neighbours, we became friends, we knew each other and we were citizens together.

In the home where I became a father I met a man who was extremely different. He was the son of a Muslim cleric who went on to become Mufti of Australia. The father worked for amity and respect between communities and became a Member of the Order of Australia. The son, a ratbag or scallywag or black sheep or white sheep, became my friend and danced at my daughter’s wedding with the then President of the Zionist Council of Australia.

All that took place in Australia, which used to be my home.

On September 11, 2001 the world changed. Three days later the Melbourne ‘Age’ reprinted an article by respected Israeli journalist and novelist, David Grossman. Grossman had witnessed the effects of terror within his own community. He wrote that terror’s greatest victim is trust between citizens. When you believe your neighbour might wish to hurt you, you cease to trust her; you cannot afford to trust. Grossman predicted in 2001 we would see that erosion of communal trust, that injury to community.

Grossman’s prophecy has well and truly come to pass. Ironically, in Australia’s case, the principal destroyers of trust have been politicians who promote fear recklessly. We have a government led by a man who acts like a boy who swoons at the sight of a uniform.
Little by little, day by day, our masters in government – as well as the odd mistress – attack trust. The headline in the paper on the day of my return to my homeland appears below another: Transfield to remain at Nauru;
and alongside a third headline: Yongah Hill detainee hurt after incident of self-harm

All of this is relegated to Page 8. In this country that used to so welcome the stranger it is no longer big news that a private corporation be rewarded (at a daily cost of $1500 per head) for its systematic unkindness to inmates. This is not news. This is policy. As is ‘turn back the boats’, the policy that hath made my name to stink upon the earth.
In this place that used to be a home a man who cut his throat in detention is hospitalised, then returned to that place of detention where he ‘is receiving appropriate medical and mental health support and care.’ In that place his doctors and mental health carers risk two years of gaol if they report on that ‘appropriate’ medical care. I know detention. I sewed my lips, I accepted overpayment and I worked as a doctor in detention.

But in the place that used to be a home nothing like this is news.

Tearful in New York City – II

One or two days after posting Tearful in NYC, I visited Ground Zero. The skies lowered and wept as I meandered lost through the plaza. A day of such dimness, of visual images blurring, of persons indistinct, of sounds muffled, of voices softened as if retreating from the pressing silence.

I arrived at Ground Zero unburdened by foreknowledge or expectation, carrying only the vague apprehension of linguistic hyperbole: ‘Ground Zero’ is – or used to be – the expression for the epicentre of an atomic explosion. The original ground zero was a location in the Nevada Desert in the Manhattan Project during WWII. What were the Americans of the new millennium claiming – in this place, in this moment – for New York City?

The plaza was gray. Not the gray of the rainy weather, a gray in any weather, charcoal coloured, the colour of the burned, the colour of char. A rectangular shape rose before me in the gloom, formed by four bulky walls a little above waist height. Stencilled into the steel upper surface of the walls were the names.

I read Japanese names in their staccato syllables, I read the flowing polysyllables of the subcontinent, I read Mayflower names, names from Arabia, Hispanic names, Jewish names, names of all the tribes of modern America. Where a person had more than one forename, all additional names were duly inscribed. Those multipartite names claimed their solemn space.

I walked the walls and read the names, pausing here, stopping there, where the stenciled lettering was unclear, my gloved fingers wiping away the obscuring water. I felt the call of the names, their need to be seen, to stand distinct.

I didn’t want more than my first glimpse of the space enclosed by the walls, the space that fell, tumbling with the eye to a depth beyond sight. Water cascaded with a muted rushing from the interior of these walls, falling, falling to the unseen depths. The walls wept mutely, immutably, for the names.

More meandering brought me to the entry to the Museum. Young women in skyblue tops stood smiling in the rain. ’Welcome sir. Thank you for coming here.’

An hour later my wife arrived, together with my sister and her husband. Both the latter have resided in New York City since 1978. My brother-in-law has become an American patriot. On the day America found itself under attack, he found himself aroused, engaged, American. ‘I saw the footage, the destruction. I ordered my team at the hospital to be ready for casualties. I expected casualties in the thousands. But they never arrived. The injured were few, the dead too many.

‘I walked down to towards the World Trade Center. The air was thick, you could feel it. Ash, grey, soft, floated and fell onto every surface.’

Listening, my mind in Hiroshima.

‘You could smell the air. A smell of burning.’

Listening, my mind in Auschwitz.

We descended a long way into the museum. Here, in darkness dimly lit, tortured steel relics, visual images, sound recordings of speaking voices told the story. One wall showed faces of watchers looking upwards: hands flew to cover shocked mouths, frantic hands flew to clutch at anguished heads. These were civilian faces, firefighter faces, police faces – human faces facing the immolation above of humans. A nearby wall panel recorded verbatim reports of horrified watchers as people emerged from above, pausing in agonising premeditation, before leaping from the fire engulfing the upper storeys.

One said, ‘ I saw a man leap, tumbling end over end. I looked away. He took so long…’

Another reacted differently: ‘A woman appeared at the window. She waited for a time, preparing. Then she leapt. I wanted to look away, but I forced myself to watch. I felt she had the right to claim me as a witness.’

Around a corner I stumbled upon a tall colour photograph of a building of immense height standing out against a blue sky. The camera captured one, two, three bodies, each separated by a good distance from the others, all three falling from that great height. The bodies were black against that brilliant sky.

At every turn, my eyes, my eyes smarted and teared.

We spent hours in the subdued spaces underground: Ground Zero is apt, no quotation marks, no hyperbole.